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Aleph Zero EVM and zkOS: building Privacy-as-a-Service for web3

Jun 20, 2024

AI Summary

Here's your AI summary of Aleph Zero EVM and zkOS: building Privacy-as-a-Service for web3 on Aleph Zero blog

Top 10 key takeaways:

  1. Core Mission: Aleph Zero aims to provide a next-gen base layer that integrates zero-knowledge (zk) based privacy seamlessly into Web3 applications.

  2. Performance and Privacy: Since 2018, Aleph Zero has focused on ensuring high performance and privacy without compromising security or decentralization, achieving subsecond finality and robust security with nearly 170 nodes.

  3. On-Chain Privacy: One of the biggest challenges is on-chain privacy, with very few experts globally capable of building client-side zero-knowledge solutions.

  4. EVM Integration: Aleph Zero acknowledges the dominance of Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) and the high costs associated with integrating non-EVM networks, thus focusing on combining privacy with EVM distribution.

  5. Innovation and Utility: Aleph Zero aims to inject more innovation and utility into its ecosystem, addressing the need for fun and bold advancements.

  6. Privacy in Web2 vs. Web3: While privacy is a major selling point in Web2 (e.g., Apple, WhatsApp), Web3 still struggles with user experience and practical implementation of on-chain privacy.

  7. Aleph Zero zkOS: The zkOS framework consolidates Aleph Zero’s privacy products, making it easier for developers to integrate confidentiality features without deep cryptographic knowledge.

  8. Aleph Zero EVM Layer 2: This special-purpose ZK-privacy Layer 2 rollup uses Aleph Zero’s WASM Layer 1 as a Data Availability layer, offering fast, secure, and scalable execution with up to 250ms block time and thousands of transactions per second.

  9. Developer Tools and Testnet: The Developer Testnet for Aleph Zero EVM Layer 2 is live, featuring extensive developer tooling and partnerships with companies like Gelato, Rarible, and Holyheld.

  10. Future Prospects: Privacy is expected to become a major narrative in 2024 and beyond, with Aleph Zero positioning itself as a leader in privacy-enhancing blockchain infrastructure. The Developer Mainnet release is scheduled for Q3 2024.

AI Summary

Our job is to provide a next-gen base layer and make it easy to embed zk-based privacy into whatever you’re doing.

The road so far

In the long term, users will value performance and privacy. We’ve set out to solve these two in 2018, and this is still our core challenge: how do we ensure that Web3 can run on rails that enable as broad of a userbase to use it with the same level of convenience as they’re used to from the Internet of the previous generation? 

By starting Aleph Zero, we wanted to show that performance doesn’t mean sacrificing security or decentralization. The network operates with subsecond finality, runs on almost 170 nodes, and has never been hacked. It’s a state-of-the-art technology hosting AlephBFT, our peer-reviewed consensus protocol at the heart. It operates on a modular Substrate stack developed by Parity Technologies. It has ~30 external teams building real products with it, the largest telecommunication firms validating it, and countless examples of proofs of concepts for future products.

But still, something’s missing—five things, to be more specific. 

The first one is on-chain privacy, which is one of the most difficult and sophisticated challenges to solve. According to our estimations, there’s less than 50 people in the world who truly know how to build client-side (local) zero-knowledge solutions, and they’re scattered throughout either universities or privacy-focused Web3 projects. Aleph Zero is one of those projects, and privacy has always been our core value proposition. But more on that in a bit. 

The second one is distribution—EVM clearly wins here, and the amount of work, time, and cost associated with direct integrations of non-EVM-based networks is staggering, despite oftentimes the non-EVM alternatives being better technologically. Building custom integrations, covering the opportunity cost for partners for having to resign from integrating several EVM networks in the meantime, and then allocating internal developer resources to each and every direct WASM integration is a massive time and resource cost. This was not so obvious in the previous cycle; it is now.

The third one is combining privacy with distribution so that we do not build an isolated environment requiring everyone to rebuild everything only to gain access to on-chain privacy. How, then, can you create a performant and secure system that allows for a) the building of general-purpose applications, b) the building of privacy-enhanced applications, and c) the plugging of privacy into the ocean of existing applications? 

The fourth one, frankly, is fun. Aleph Zero has become conservative in the recent months. We’re not bold enough, and too focused on microoptimizations while forgetting that the market, Web3, and the broader startup scene are all about the next best thing. Until today, our next best thing was not here.

And the fifth one? Adding significantly more utility to AZERO itself by delivering on all of the above.

The privacy challenge

If we look at Web2 today, the need and adoption of privacy are crushingly obvious. The largest technology companies in the world, such as Apple, have turned privacy into their USP by developing passkeys, app tracking transparency systems, mail privacy protection, and so much more. WhatsApp — the moment you open the chat! — states that your communication is encrypted, while Signal or Threema take it to another level. Financial privacy is even more obvious; after more than 10 years, we still can’t easily send crypto to another person in a non-custodial fashion without revealing the entire transaction history of a given wallet, not to mention the inefficiencies lost to MEV and other downsides of allegedly transparent trading that, in the real world, primarily allows for exploitation. 

In web3, however, this has not been solved yet. We do have some extremely bright people in various projects working on those challenges, yet still:

  1. UX has not been solved, which makes using on-chain privacy a pain, and therefore forcing users to use default, non-private solutions, in particular: 
  • Current on-chain privacy systems require users to either download the entire state of the system before participating in shielded activities, such as executing a shielded transaction or revealing user intents to the data provider; 
  • Client-side proving usually takes over 10 seconds if done outside of a desktop (personal computer) environment, which in turn can be a major obstacle to mass distribution and adoption of the product; 
  • Multisig capabilities are pretty much non-existent, making shielded on-chain interactions usable only for individuals and not institutions;
  • Management of private keys and other secrets necessary to interact with privacy-enhanced systems is significantly more complex than in the case of non-private systems. 
  1. Distribution challenges, where achieving customizable privacy requires rebuilding the apps form scratch. While several systems allow for simple token transfers, integration with already deployed applications remains an unsolved problem. 
  2. Lack of economic incentives for achieving and maintaining privacy. In traditional markets, privacy-centric mechanisms such as dark pools and frequent batch auctions have been adopted due to their economic benefits. In crypto, privacy is often marketed solely for ideological reasons, which — while certainly valuable — is definitely not enough to drive mass adoption. 

With today’s launch of ZK-privacy Aleph Zero EVM and Aleph Zero’s zkOS, we’re setting out to solve all of the above. 

Aleph Zero zkOS and the ZK-privacy EVM Layer 2

Until today, Aleph Zero has been synonymous with its Substrate-based WASM Layer 1 blockchain, which offers developers a subsecond time to finality, support for 170 validator nodes, and over 40 external teams building various applications on top of it. The WASM Mainnet launched in November 2021. Going forward, the Layer 1—alongside retaining its general purpose status—will also serve as the Data Availability layer for the L2 EVM layer, its applications, and its L3 appchains. 

The Ethereum expansion seeks to make the Aleph Zero technology more accessible, while simultaneously allowing freedom of choice for ecosystem developers. It also allows Aleph Zero to export its on-chain confidentiality features for the broader Ethereum community, making Aleph Zero into one of the first movers in the realm of ZK privacy.

zkOS by Aleph Zero aims to consolidate all of Aleph Zero’s privacy products into a single, developer-friendly framework that allows to integrate confidentiality features without requiring deep knowledge of the underlying cryptography, eventually making web3 on-chain privacy infrastructure accessible, easy to use, and economically beneficial.

Aleph Zero EVM is a special-purpose ZK-privacy Layer 2 rollup utilizing the Aleph Zero WASM L1 as a Data Availability layer, built in partnership with Gelato, a leading Rollup-as-a-Service provider. Leveraging Arbitrum Anytrust DAC technology, the Aleph Zero EVM Layer 2 inherits a fast, secure, and scalable execution environment. It boasts up to 250ms block time with near-instant transaction finality and processes thousands of transactions per second, standing out as one of the fastest EVM chains on the market. 

Aleph Zero EVM uses Arbitrum Orbits’ advanced web3 scaling stack–with the most performant developer tooling–to create the most advanced privacy-enhancing blockchain infrastructure on the market. Privacy will become a major narrative in 2024 and beyond, as more mainstream use cases emerge.

Luis Schliesske, Founder of Gelato

Aleph Zero EVM Layer 2 Developer Testnet launches with a wide range of developer tooling such as Gelato’s industry-standard web3 services; Relayers, Account Abstraction, Functions, and VRF paired with third-party infrastructure like oracles, block explorers, indexers, multi-sig, and more, making Aleph Zero’s new EVM Layer 2 an excellent choice as a general-purpose platform too.

We chose Halo2 with the KZG commitment scheme for its speed and universally trusted setup. Though it demands more developer effort than alternatives like Noir, Risc0, or SP1, Aleph Zero’s goal is to handle that for the builders: our zkToolkit simplifies zkOS integration, ensuring high performance and a great user experience with the ultimate goal of easily fitting into existing apps not only in the Aleph Zero ecosystem, but across all of Ethereum—without the need of building them from scratch.

Adam Gagol, Co-founder of Aleph Zero

Initial benchmarks show Aleph Zero’s zkOS zero-knowledge proofs can be executed in 600-800 ms on MacBooks (M1-M3 processors) and Intel Core i7-i9 PCs using standard browsers like Safari or Chrome. 

-> Detailed methods and optimizations are available on Aleph Zero’s blog.

Testnet is now live

The Aleph Zero ZK-privacy EVM Layer 2 unveils its Developer Testnet today, welcoming builders and early adopters. A number of existing and new use cases are already integrating the infrastructure, such as Rarible, the NFT company, Holyheld, and a yet-to-be-announced team working on novel prediction markets. 

The Developer Mainnet release is scheduled for Q3 2024.